|Kurst tanks a Death Talon Wyrmguard,|
A Difficult FlightThe flight back home to Denver from Dallas was unfriendly and rough. The glow of my laptop screen illuminated just enough of an area to catch a glimpse of my boss waving the flight attendant over, gesturing for another beverage. I looked at the words on my screen, half distracted by him paying for the drink and sending her away with a nod. The words were not coming out of me like I'd hoped. Dave glanced over at me, my elbows tucked in awkwardly to avoid annoying the passengers beside me.
"Whaddya got going there? Still workin'?" I'd come to develop a bit of a perfectionist reputation in the year I had been at my new job.
"Not quite," I smiled back, easing my tension for a moment, "I'm writing a 'termination' letter." As both my boss, and a manager intimately familiar with HR practices, perhaps he'd see the comedy terminating an employee that didn't actually work for me.
"Oh yeah?" he said with a chuckle, picking up on the brevity. I worked for him. I owned no business and ran no company. Having these facts in hand, he pushed a bit further, "Who ya firin'?"
I sat back in the confined airline seat and took a deep breath.
"A friend. And it's gonna suck."
Six months earlier, I was in real bind. Ater -- the player that acted as my mentor while helping lead the guild -- had finished his tenure in World of Warcraft. One of his many roles was that of acting Warrior officer, following the raid retirement of Annihilation. With Ater gone and Anni fully committed to PvP, I had to look elsewhere for Warrior leadership. Only months remained in The Burning Crusade and we had yet to defeat Illidan. In desperation, I invoked Occam's Razor and went with simplest choice. That choice was Kurst.
Kurst was an old veteran of Descendants of Draenor, obtained during the Dirty Horde assimilation in July of '05. He was a family man, like myself, and had recently become a father. He tenaciously fought by side in the 40-Man raid team, present for numerous boss kills and countless nights of progression work. Quantifying Kurst's contribution was easy: you counted the chalk ticks on the walls of DoD's raid history.
A quick test of a warrior's longevity in Descendants of Draenor was to ask them which position they rotated through during the Vaelastrasz "sacrifice chain," and many warriors selflessly joined Kurst to furthering our conquest in Blackwing Lair. Ater. Annihilation. Darange. Demus. Thangrave. Burburbur. Their names were now but a list marked "offline" when viewing the guild roster. Kurst remained.
Kurst's reliability and trustworthiness continued into The Burning Crusade. His willingness to help new recruits get accustomed to DoD was a godsend, and his conversational nature put awkward newcomers at ease. Kurst would outlast me in Vent many nights, chatting with both old and new alike. In real life, he'd be the kind of guy anyone could sit down and have a drink with. Culture, especially in a game known to be volatile, was just as important as raiding rules.
Conveniently, his job in IT Security kept him online during the day. He and I conversed about the game over IM, an ongoing communication that strengthened our friendship. It was Kurst who reviewed my initial "wake the hell up" manifesto. Over time, I shared more thoughts with him about the guild, management and officership. As my vision narrowed on the goals for Wrath, I too shared these with Kurst, and he was always ready to offer support and feedback.
Promoting Kurst seemed like the right thing to do. He had plenty of tenure, was a dedicated player, held good rapport with the rest of the guild, and agreed with my leadership direction. When I had to make a quick decision to keep the Illidan train on the tracks, these points painted Kurst in a very positive light. When I reflected on the cons, the "certain habits" which might be to the detriment of a guild member in an authority role, I played them down. They were trivial adjustments -- things he could improve and refine with practice. After all, we're human; we all make mistakes. As long as we identify those mistakes and learn, ensuring they are never repeated...well, anyone has the potential to grow. Right?
I wished it were that easy.
Demonstrated ExpertiseKeyboard turning is a stigma in the World of Warcraft community. You know it when you see it: the telltale signs of player rotating in a slow, robot-like motion. It occurs when a player presses the left or right arrow keys on the keyboard, which are default key mappings to any player that installs World of Warcraft. But ask a dedicated raider -- typically one that uses a keyboard and mouse in tandem -- and they'll tell you that the first change they make to their setup is to rebind movement/strafe keys, permanently using the mouse to spin both the camera and their player as needed.
You can instantly size up a player if you catch them keyboard turning; no self-respecting hardcore player would be caught dead using keys to rotate their player, navigating their way through the Suppression Room like it was a game of Snake. In raid situations, boss mechanics demand you change directions and move quickly -- a split-second too long facing the wrong direction often meant instant death. Seasoned WoW players can sniff out a keyboard turner a mile away; when I see it, I want to point and scream.
When Kurst was famously caught doing it one night during a raid, everybody in the roster instantly knew...and judged him for it. My initial thoughts were of shock and disappointment. How could you? Kurst laughed this off as playful ribbing between online gamers, but as the guild doubled-down on personal responsibility, Kurst's own performance continued to be called into question. It didn't matter where the real deficiency lay, keyboard turning marked him for life. It was difficult to see past that.
In a raid, the role of the tank is to repeatedly strike a boss, building up an invisible meter known as threat. Monsters aggress toward a player when that player's threat surpasses all other players' -- an action known as "getting aggro." Tanks are responsible for producing the most threat of the raid; it was their job to keep a boss focused or "aggro'd" onto them. If another player produced enough threat to surpass the tank, the boss would turn to that new player and proceed to smash their face in. Only tanks were equipped to withstand boss attacks; a warlock or a mage would never survive more than a single blow.
This give-and-take defined a core fundamental of early WoW raiding: Tanks produced threat and kept control of the boss, and DPS unleashed hell while keeping their own threat well below that of the tank's. And unlike the WoW of today, threat generated by tanks and DPS were not as dissimilar as you might think. A poorly played DPS could pull off a reasonable tank.
And...a reasonably played DPS could pull off a poor tank.
Kurst's #1 job in our raids was to take a hold of a boss and keep it there. Kurst's threat, however, was an ongoing issue. He had a history of not being able to keep bosses off of DoDers with the highest damage output, and I urged him to refine his technique. He practiced. He researched. He came prepared each night to demonstrate growth. Whatever improvement he made in the threat production department was minimal, if any at all. Against better judgement, I continued to encourage him and watched my best players continued to pull mobs off him. My reward for backing Kurst was having to listen to the dead DPS complain to me after the raid. They felt it was "stupid having to hold back" from unleashing their full power in fear of pulling a boss off of Kurst.
They were right.
Born Not Made
As we transitioned from TBC to WotLK and more warriors joined the fray, the critique of Kurst increased. When opportunity arose, I discreetly pinged the other warriors in an attempt to determine how they felt leadership stood. Are you getting your needs met? Is Kurst a valuable source of information and insight? Is he providing you with education, mentorship, new tricks and insights that might improve your own play? Their responses were disheartening.
Some warriors, like Abrinis and Jungard, were kind-hearted by nature, keeping them from responding negatively. They pointed out how much they liked Kurst and "thought he was a good guy," which did nothing to address my specific questions on Kurst's leadership. Others, like Omaric, were more acclimated to being honest about the sad truth -- truth that's often hard to admit. In exquisite detail, they would paint a picture of Kurst's fundamental failings in baseline knowledge, whether it be in his choice of gems, enchants, attack rotations, or other raid-related warrior mechanics.
"He's not still keyboard turning is he?" Omaric asked, a question I could only sigh in response to.
One of the expectations I made clear for the officers in Wrath was for each of them to keep their specific class forum thread updated, particularly where spreadsheets were involved. The raiding community often had theorycrafters building complex spreadsheets, and players used these to plug in their own stats, crunch the numbers, and maximize their play. While other officers actively engaged in these discussions with their respective guild members, Kurst required continual harassment to stay on top of his. Whether he was distracted by work or his new baby was unclear. What was clear was that the effort I was investing into an officer was increasing my load, not lightening it.
Nevertheless, I remained optimistic about Kurst and hoped he would turn things around. In retrospect, I consider many of these to be rote -- things that could be practiced and improved upon. Kurst seemed passionate about the class; surely, logic dictated that diving in to the warrior with greater gusto would lead to more knowledge, more sharing, and in turn, more forum updates.
I hoped leadership would eventually emerge. What emerged instead, were social missteps.